"All the evidence seems to me to point in the other direction - schools that have academy status have improved the quality of food that they offer children." So said Secretary of State Michael Gove to the Education Select Committee
. But a Freedom of Information request
shows that he based his confident statement on a small number of case studies and menu samples from academies obviously chosen because they complied with the food standards.
The School Food Trust
found that academies nominated by the Department for Education (DfE) were indeed the most likely to be compliant with the standards at lunchtime when compared with both secondary schools and randomly-selected academies (except for salt) but none of the differences between school groups reached statistical significance. The Trust concluded that academies are no better at meeting food-based standards at lunchtime than other secondary schools. Worryingly, it found that a majority of secondary schools were not compliant with the standards for deep-fried foods at lunchtime so there is still some way to go before secondary schools reduce significantly the amount of deep-fried food served.
At morning break the Trust found that compliance to the standards in academies was statistically significantly worse at morning break than in the average for secondary schools for England in 2010-11. Only for water at morning break were academies more likely to be compliant. The Trust concluded that "while some academies are making good efforts to maintain compliance with some of the food-based standards, others are doing no better (and in many instances worse) than secondary schools nationally."
Staff at the academies surveyed by the Trust generally agreed that school food standards were a good idea but many thought they would not be effective unless made compulsory and were monitored either internally (eg by caterers) or externally (eg by Ofsted). The Trust concluded, “In the absence of compulsory standards, academies are serving foods in the dining room that the standards were intended to restrict or eliminate.” The evidence undermines a DfE statement given to the Trust which said “academies will always do the best for their pupils.” It appears, then, as far as food is concerned, that many academies are shirking their responsibility to put their pupils’ interests first.
So when Mr Gove said that the evidence showed that "schools that have academy freedoms have improved the quality of food they offer" he really meant "a carefully-selected group of academies have improved the quality of food."